Shoot Better Cityscapes

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

With the recent explosion of photo-sharing sites on the web, it seems that landscape photography is at an all-time high. I’m consistently blown away by the caliber of imagery I see being captured the world over on a daily basis. Along with this ever-present promotion of far-flung, corner-of-the-world places comes the desire to travel to the ends of the earth to capture the most dramatic image of places few knew existed.

Did you know that over half of the world population lives in urban areas, however? This means that over 3.5 billion of us live in or near cities. Which means it’s time to polish up on those cityscape skills of yours! I enjoy shooting these concrete jungles, and with a little practice, you might find they begin to occupy a gaping hole in your travel portfolio. Read on for a few tips on how to shoot better cityscape images!

1. Shoot at Dawn and/or Dusk
This is the no-brainer, super straight-forward, can’t go wrong tip. Dawn and dusk (just before sunrise and just after sunset) are the periods of day and night when the ambient (existing) light balances with the artificial light from buildings, street lamps, cars, etc. The sky turns a deep, rich blue or indigo, the city lights pop and…VOILA! Instant cityscape! Take note that you will need a sturdy tripod and be practiced up on your long exposure shooting. Many of these images are in the range of 5 – 20 seconds, so you must take special care not to bump the camera, thus rendering the image soft.

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

2. Provide Some Context 
Rather than just shoot frame-filling city, why not include a bit of context in the image. Take this example of Vancouver. With its beautiful walking trails winding through coastal bays, Vancouver is a thriving urban area intertwined with spectacular natural surroundings. Consider different ways to frame and present the city that you’re shooting—these types of images can be especially attractive to magazines and other editorial outlets.

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

3. Search Out Dramatic Weather 
While I could put this tip in nearly every one of my blog posts regarding so many different types of shooting, I feel it is especially true with cityscapes. Many times, we find ourselves shooting cityscapes from iconic locations. These locations are popular for a reason, as often times they offer the best views and vantage points. This means it is not entirely uncommon to come away with an image that is quite similar to so many others out there. The one separating factor when shooting from these iconic locations that we can utilize to our advantage is dramatic weather. This image, taken from Alki Beach near Seattle, WA is nothing revolutionary in and of itself. However, I was fortunate to be rewarded with a stormy sunset, which separates it from many of the other images shot from this location.

Cityscape image of San Francisco's Painted Ladies at dusk

Cityscape image of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies at dusk

4. Compress the Scene for Heightened Visual Interest 
Many city overlooks feature impressive foreground and background subject matter. This serves as the perfect opportunity to pull out a telephoto lens and compress the scene. By compressing the scene, we are effectively pulling the background in very tight to our foreground, thus adding depth and dimensionality to our images which gives the viewer a much more three dimensional experience when viewing the image.

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

5. Use a Tilt-shift Lens for Creative Control 
The tilt-shift look has become increasingly popular of late. Just bring up your Instagram feed and see how many images come up with that snow globe, dream-like feel. It’s likely that most of those images have been given the effect after capture, but if you happen to have a tilt-shift lens in your arsenal, you can capture this type of image upon clicking the shutter button. Without getting overly technical, tilt-shift lenses let you keep a “slice” of the image in focus, thus drawing the viewer’s attention to a particular part of the frame that is different, and (at times) far more effective than just shooting at shallow apertures. Given you use it modestly, this effect can be super fun, and serves as a great alternative to shooting a traditional cityscape image.

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

6. See in Black and White
As is apparent in this post, it seems most of the cityscape images we see are in color. However, many cities present themselves exceptionally well in monochrome. This hazy late evening image of East Jerusalem is one such example. Next time you come home from shooting cityscapes, try processing a select few in black & white. This might help you to “see” BW cityscapes in the future.

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7. Try Something New
As I say with most every tutorial I write, try shedding the above “rules” of shooting better cityscapes and let your heart and creative vision guide you. Try a new angle, a new time of day or night or a different lens. Look for new and intriguing ways to capture your city. Save up some money and book a helicopter for a completely different view of what’s below. Find something that excites you, and then run with it. Good luck!

Don’t be scared of the big bad black…

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

I have always loved contrasty images. When done correctly, they engage the viewer and hold our attention within the frame.

Lately, there seems to be a trend with bringing detail into every part of the image with HDR or other adjustments in post. Honestly, I love the fact that we can express our vision in so many ways through photography. I’m not at all opposed to HDR, or this growing trend–even if I don’t subscribe to it myself.

I do feel strongly, however, that the inclusion of highlights and shadows as a compositional element is all but a lost art. It’s amazing how much Mother Nature does for us if we just let her. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this as well, as I am a huge fan of being able to bring out shadowed foregrounds with the use of Grad ND filters.

Images like this of an angler on the Rio Grande (Tierra del Fuego, Chile) take on an entirely different feel when we give in to the big bad black. It is less about an activity, or even a place, and more about a graphic. It’s an oversimplification, and I truly believe that in many images, less is absolutely more.

So resist that urge to recover the shadows. Study your frame and decide what’s of greatest importance. Try letting go of that perfectly balanced exposure. By giving that up, you just might create an image that’s markedly different and better than what you’ve trained yourself to capture.

The Tug is the Drug

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

“The tug is the drug”.

This is a common saying amongst flyfishers, and one that rings true if you’ve ever had a good bend in the rod. Here, pro angler Oliver White sets the hook like a champ against a 6-ft lemon shark in the waters of South Andros, Bahamas.

Sometimes, when capturing a sport or activity, we forget that it’s often the more intimate moments that really hit home with viewers. It may not be the prettiest or most impressive scene, but it is something that demonstrates your understanding of what really means something to the audience with which you are trying to connect.

Despite the exclusion of the bigger picture, sometimes these intimate pieces engage the viewer much more immediately and require them to explore what is actually occurring. Once discovered, there’s a sub-conscious recognition, and immediate connection.

Strive to diversify the way you capture whatever it is that you capture. Challenge yourself to tell the story in a different way. Step out of that comfortable box and try exploring a different part of the scene. It may feel a bit funny at first, but I promise you will grow as a photographer because of it!

ABP MVP: Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Printer

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What: Epson Sylus Pro 3880 Printer

Why: I’m going to do my best to answer this in a fairly succinct package here. Full disclaimer: this is not an in-depth printer review. Why not? Simply put–I’m a photographer, not a master printmaker. There is a stark difference. I, like you, don’t have time to mess around with this, that or the other when it comes to churning out legit prints. Yes, I want it all. No I don’t want to spend hours on end and a bucket of ink trying to dial things in for a stunning, accurate print. Can you relate? I thought so.

Judging from the subconscious nod of agreement, I’m going to assume you aren’t a master printmaker either, which means you’re going to love my quick overview. It answers the basic questions that most of us photographer types want to know and leaves all the uber scientific data/proof/testimonials to the ones that actually know how to decipher that action. You want that goodness? It’s out there for sure. Get on the Google and bury yourself in minute comparisons, data analytics and everything else the printer geek in you could ever want. There’s no question this printer will pass with flying colors. For those wanting a no frills, to-the-point approach, you’ve come to the right place.

The down and dirty is that this printer prints the way you want it to print right out of the box, and it does it all exceptionally well. How do you want it to print? Well, you (and I) want it to print quietly, quickly and, most importantly,  accurately. Right? Right.  The simplest understanding of monitor calibration and printer profiles for the different papers you choose will leave you with wall-worthy, archival (dependent upon paper) prints that will have family, friends and clients smitten with satisfaction.

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Why am I such a fan of this printer? Firstly, it prints juuuust big enough for what I want to be printing myself. I don’t print enough to justify the expense of printer, ink and paper for anything larger than 13 x 19. I do get plenty of orders for larger prints, and I happily pass them along to my local lab, where my buddy Heath does an exceptional job. I use the 3880 for smaller print orders, personal projects, marketing materials and a host of other smaller jobs.

Secondly, this printer offers pro quality prints at a pro-sumer price. At a cost of $1,295.00, it doesn’t break the bank. Depending on how much you spend on camera gear, you’re either pulling your hair out in disgust, or giving me a virtual high five. Trust me when I tell you that $1,300 is peanuts compared against the time you’ll spend trying to get a lesser machine to do what you want it to do, right out of the box. Time is money, and yes–you do get what you pay for. Looks like there’s even a $200 rebate going on through August 31, 2014.

Thirdly–for the space-conscious, this printer won’t require a new addition to your cozy abode. It measures 27″x 15″ x 10″, and it sits on my desk along with my hard drive(s) and computer.

Fourthly–one of the cooler features of this printer is that it will automatically switch between matte or photo black ink depending on the paper profile you choose. I don’t print a whole lot on glossy papers, but it’s a nice option to have, especially knowing I don’t have to switch out the cartridge myself.

Finally, and I’m rehashing a bit here, but I’m amazed at the print quality that this relatively little machine churns out. My favorite papers are thick and meaty (recent favorite is Epson’s Cold Press Bright) , yielding exceptional texture, tonality, color and detail. With past printers, I have struggled with thicker papers, throwing away sheet after sheet of expensive paper due to a botched print for one reason or another. Knock on wood, but after nearly 24 mos. with this printer, I’ve yet to toss a print in the trash. Furthermore, I’ve yet to replace an ink cartridge after many, many prints. CAN I GET AN AMEN!?!?

So there you have it. The 3880 is a photographer’s printer. It has plug and play ease, all the while producing lab worthy prints from the comfort of your own desktop.

Where: I buy all my gear from Pictureline.com. You should too!

 

Story Behind the Shot: Rio Serrano BW

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

I captured this image on the 10th day of a nearly 3-week run and gun mission through the wilds of Chilean Patagonia. The impetus for the trip was really fly fishing, but I knew I would be served numerous opportunities to shoot scenic imagery as well, especially in the famed Torres del Paine National Park.

By day number ten of waking up before the sun, motivation comes more in the form of a slow, sad drip than a flood of excitement and energy. I was tired (aren’t we all???), and as I set my alarm clock for yet another mind-numbing hour, I wondered if I was really going to rise and shine, or even rise at all. Throw in the fact that skies were socked in and the likelihood of morning light was minimal, and I was darn near comatose by the time my head hit the pillow.

4:30 am came way too early, and as I peered out my window, my fears (hopes???) were confirmed as the weather still looked to be less than ideal for a sunrise shoot. I was a mixed bag of fatigue-induced emotions, equal parts stoked to justify a few more hours of sleep as well as disappointed that my hopes for an epic sunrise were dashed. I lay back down–restless. Minutes ticked by…I couldn’t do it. I had to get up. No matter how I tried to justify, I could not…not shoot. Here I was in one of the most wildly beautiful places on earth, and damn it all if a few clouds and half-closed eyelids were going to hold me back…

I frantically threw on my clothes, grabbed my pack, turned on my headlamp and out the door I went.

As part of a larger group during the entirety of this trip, I did not have my own car, so I was relegated to shooting locations that were relatively easy to get to from where we were staying. As I walked hurriedly up the dirt road, the clouds began to clear a bit, and the ambient light began to grow brighter.

Let’s clarify something real quick here–dawn is a fantastic time to shoot landscape imagery. The light is soft and inviting. It is one of my favorite types of light to shoot. Dawn, however, is incredibly fleeting. It does not occur right before sunrise. Typically, dawn happens about 8-15 minutes before sunrise. These were the thoughts that were going through my head as I watched dawn grow closer…and closer. I quickly realized that I had myself in quite a conundrum…I was still a decent ways away from my pre-selected shooting spot.

So I did what any photographer would do when suffering from the immediate effects of FOMI (Fear Of Missing It–closely related to FOMIA [fear of missing it ALL]).I STARTED RUNNING. I’m not talking casual fast-paced walk here. I’m talking Usaine Bolt arm-pumping, foaming at the mouth, heart coming through my throat sprint with a fully loaded camera pack. My lungs felt like the inside of a crematorium–I promise you I was closer to respiratory failure than Joan Rivers is to her next facial procedure…

With no time to spare, I arrived at “the spot”. I threw my pack on the ground, wrestled my camera onto the tripod, inserted the cable release, grabbed a grad filter and clicked away like the crazed photographer that I was/am. Sunrise was a bit of a bust, but dawn was worth every minute on the pain train. Moral of the story? Don’t set your alarm if you don’t plan on getting up. And if you do plan on getting up, don’t go back to bed for 10 min before putting yourself through hell to capture the goods. Oh, and the real moral of the story??? Don’t give yourself a choice. ALWAYS get up and go. I’ve never regretted getting skunked behind the lens, but I certainly wouldn’t mind taking back all the times I buried my head in the pillow…

“Dear Facebook”…

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Dear Facebook:

I feel like maybe I should be doing this in person, as opposed to a detached, heartless online letter. We have, after all, spent a lot of time with each other over the past several years. You’ve been there for the birth of my children, my travels round the world and the intimate, awkward and even heartbreaking moments with family and friends.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ve connected me with countless individuals and entities that share in my passion for photography and photo education. You were kind—almost too kind. At times, showering me with (sometimes less than deserved) praise on a daily basis, relaying the energetic and enthusiastic words of our mutual friends, and even providing insight and critique on occasion.

We grew together—you more than me (HELLO!!!), but hey, you always had more friends anyway. I’m happy for you—really, I am. Ecstatic? Hardly. Jealous? Not even. Hurt? Maybe (sigh…)

I wish I could say it’s not you, it’s me. I mean—that always worked in the past. But this time FB (is it cool if I still call you FB despite this minor quibble?), it’s most definitely you. We used to hang out all the time. BIZ BUDDIES! Right?!? We were so good together. I’d post fancy pants pictures, you’d show all our friends and we’d all party for a couple of hours—ya know—high fives, lots of online love, a like here–a share there. We were unbeatable you and me. But suddenly, you’ve grown incredibly distant (gulp…).  FB, you’ve…changed.

I know you hate hearing this, but I feel like this relationship has grown incredibly lopsided. I mean, I come to hang out and you don’t even respond. Are you seeing somebody else? Are you even attracted to me anymore?!? Is it because I said your sister was hot? Was it my application vid for The Bachlelorette? Is it because I’m a Mormon (that’s right, I said it). Is it my teeth? DAMNIT!!! IT’S MY TEETH!!! I knew I should’ve gotten braces. Thanks for nothing, Mom.

Really though, it’s like…it’s like you hoard my posts for you and you alone. WHY YOU GOTTA BE SO CONTROLLING LIKE THAT YO!?! (Oops, sorry. Excuse the white rapper talk. Sometimes I get a little worked up…) I’m starting to question why I even come around anymore. I mean, I’ve spent so much time on us—it’s hard to just turn my back and leave, but I really feel like you’re forcing my hand here. I have…(dare I say it???) other interests. You’re not the only one in my life either you know! Is that a what?!? A threat? Yes!!! Grrrrr. Kind of. Err…sort of. Um…well, not really. I guess threats don’t work if you don’t really care. It’s more of a last ditch effort for just a little bit of attention.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I still need you. But you’ve grown incredibly demanding. And your taste is effing expensive. I know, I know—you have your needs. Well geez FB, what about my needs?!? Did you ever happen to think that little Mr. Small Business over here in  Salt Lake City can’t afford your needs!?!

Ok sorry. It’s not your fault. Or maybe it is, but in the interest of keeping this (one-sided) conversation civil, I’ll try and wrap this up. It is, after all, your place. You’ve been so kind in letting me hang out rent-free for all these years, but I simply can’t justify the cost to “hang with the big boys”.

So…(wipes tear), where do we go from here? Ultimatum time?!? I wish. I just need you to know I still care. I want to be biz buddies again. You’ve introduced me to so many wonderful people, but we never see each other anymore. You’ve given me quantifiable return, and I appreciate that. But the gate master (yes, I’m looking at you), seems to have tossed the key, and no amount of love or attention will bring it back, sans an unfeasible amount of my hard-earned casheesh.

I’ll miss you FB. Really, I will. You might see me, though my attention will be a little (err…a lot) less devout. I hope we can work this out.

I’ll (mostly) always love you,

ABP

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UPPA: Unsolicited Professional Photographer Advice

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What’s that??? You didn’t ask for advice?! Well, here you are. You’ll read this and you’ll like. Whether you like it or not. ;)

I am frequently consulted by young, eager individuals wondering what they can do to secure a career as a professional photographer. My advice varies depending on the day, but today, it is this:

Success doesn’t pay the bills. MONEY pays the bills. Learn to monetize your successes.

One might naturally think that success begets riches, but that is far from true, especially in a world where “success” or that warm fuzzy feeling inside is just a couple of “likes” away…

Remember this: monetization is not selling out. Charging a premium for your hard-earned and well-developed skill set does not make you less of an artist or a creator. Feel-goods are all good and well, but you can’t pay the mortgage with social media likes, you won’t feed your kids with life experience, and the bank doesn’t recognize a 1st place ribbon as a form of currency.

Arguably, all of these things (and so much more) can make you a rather successful photographer, but unless you learn how to turn that success into dollar signs, you’re going to be researching applications on the interwebz for that next day job.

Being a “professional photographer” certainly is about much more than cold hard cash in the bank. But making a living as a photographer, at its very root, relies upon zeroes and decimal points, just like any other business.

On a positive parting note: this is all entirely possible. I know it. I believe it. I live it. And you can too. Just don’t forget the important schtuff.

Behind the Shot: Mountain Khakis Early Spring Catalog Cover

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Can it really already be considered “early Spring”??? I guess the good folks at Mountain Khakis think so, as has been made known by the arrival of their early Spring catalog, featuring a cover and a load of other images from our catalog shoot last summer in Oregon and along the Salmon River.

I was fired up to see they chose an especially fun shot for the cover, one that took some quick thinking on both the technical and creative end of things. The short of it is that this image nearly never happened. We had about 30 min before we were supposed to head out and prep for a sunset shoot along Lake Wallowa and we decided to make use of an old Willy’s Jeep (in immaculate condition) that had been loaned to us by a kind local.

Much of the imagery we focus on with these catalog shoots is capturing the spontaneous and fun nature of the MK lifestyle. I’m always looking for an emotive image–one that makes people want to be a part of this brand/lifestyle. With that in mind, I wanted to get up close and personal as the talent was epitomizing random summer fun with an old jeep and a longboard.

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I quickly set up a Manfrotto Magic Arm on the front side panel of the jeep. Shooting a Canon 5D MKII with an 8-15mm fisheye lens meant I could capture all of the action from an angle very near the driver. I attached an intervalometer to the camera and set it to take a picture every second until I stopped the sequence. Everything was set…and then the Jeep got a little cranky. We couldn’t get it started and finally resorted to pushing the jeep and compression starting this hearty hunk of metal.

What ensued was several trips up and down the highway, experimenting with different shutter speeds and camera positions, running alongside hooting and hollering and generally having a blast in mid-day light. It also took an exceptionally gifted clutch/gas operator to keep the Jeep running. Nice work Nate Morgan! It seems like the best ideas always face the most hurdles! Don’t give up on that vision!

Check out the vid below for a little BTS vid action from the entire shoot, and a better view of our setup for this image.

 

 

Recap w BTS Video: Mountain Khakis SS14 Catalog Shoot

It’s cold and snowy outside at the moment here in UT (finally!), but I’m just now getting around to posting a recap of a ridiculously fun and productive shoot with the Mountain Khakis crew. Per the norm, we were able to combine the “work hard/play hard” mentality, and the entire shoot was a blur of catching my breath, yelling at talent (or not) and constantly remarking at how much I love my job.

The two primary locations for this shoot were Joseph, OR and the Main Salmon River. Both offered unique opportunities to capture “life untucked” in all it’s authentic glory. Check the gallery above for images as well as the BTS video below (shot by NS Innovative). We’re already planning our Fall/Winter 14 shoot–should be another epic!

 

 

Take Me Fishing Ad Campaign

I’m a blogging slacker, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy!

I was recently approached by local ad agency Fluid about a project they were working on for TakeMeFishing.org. Below is the resulting campaign–I think they did a wonderful job with the creative!